City Council talks deer management, sidewalk project, 2022 budget plan

Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - 10:18am

The Ann Arbor City Council met on Monday to discuss deer management, a sidewalk project and the 2020 budget and millage rates.

The public comment section largely focused on the deer management issue in the city. The City Council had previously appropriated $250,000 in deer “culling,” which is a program to reduce and control deer population by selective slaughter, for the 2019-20 fiscal year. City Councilmember Jeff Hayner, D-Ward 1, proposed an amendment to the budget to defund the deer-cull program.

Many Ann Arbor residents stated at the meeting they seek to have non-lethal options for deer management, due to the controversial nature of deer culling, while also challenging the effectiveness of the current deer management program. Instead of culling, residents suggested finding an eco-sustainable way to coexist with the deer.

Residents opposed to the culling program argued that reasons used to justify deer culling in the past are no longer valid, and the budget allocated to deer culling is therefore unnecessary. They stated the three most important reasons for deer culling are disease control, traffic safety and environmental sustainability. According to more recent studies, all these concerns are no longer convincing or significant enough to continue to support the culling they stated.

In response, supporters of the current deer culling program explained the environmental importance of deer management and the consequential environmental damage overpopulation can cause.

Supporters of the culling program argued the invasive nature of deer and cited studies that have proven the environmental damages deer can cause if overpopulated. They also stated the program has been successfully controlling the deer population for years, proving its effectiveness.

Hayner argued the funding for deer culling program has not been effective and could be potentially used on more significant issues like affordable housing or road repair.

“We’ve spent $750,000 so far on this, and we claim we have great needs in the city. We have needs for affordable housing, but we spend it to kill deer,” said Hayner.

The proposal was denied by the council later in the meeting during the discussion about the budget with an 8-2 vote. Mayor Christopher Taylor was the only supporter of the Hayner’s motion.

The Council also discussed the Northside STEAM Sidewalk Gap Project, which is a series of infrastructure improvements surrounding Ann Arbor STEAM Elementary School at Northside. The improvements consist primarily of filling gaps in the sidewalk system and constructing ADA-compliant ramps in the neighborhood around the school. The goal is to create a better walking environment for students going to school.

Councilmember Anne Bannister, D-Ward 1, was skeptical about the project and was concerned about the lack of engagement between the project committee and the residents in the process of project planning.

“We’ve noted that (the project planning) has been a sub-optimal process,” Bannister said. “The process got off track, and it didn’t self-correct. The residents mentioned that the Parent-Teacher Organization Council has been working on it for five years now, but the residents impacted weren't involved until just last year. I am urging my colleagues to vote ‘no’ on this, and going back to the drawing board. We have better use of over a million dollars on other more urgent traffic safety concerns.”

Councilmember Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, agreed with Bannister’s concerns that the residents impacted by this project are being left out of the discussion. Ramlawi stated he joined the City Council because he was once left out of important matters that influenced his life, and it is the responsibility of the city councilmembers to represent the voice of their constituency. This led him to believe that the project requires reassessment.

“It seems like a really faulty end result we got right now,” Ramlawi said. “We are chasing dollars. We are chasing sunk cost. We are chasing grant money. We have a less-than-ideal outcome, on top of the other concerns raised … I think you need to know when to cut your losses. Looking at this right now, I no longer support it. I think we will achieve a better result if this goes back and we come back with a better plan.”

Councilmember Julie Grand, D-Ward 3, expressed her support for the project and stated that, although the planning process has not been perfect, the importance of offering a safe route for students outweighs other concerns. Grand also said the project will have long-term benefits.

“Even when it is an imperfect process, (safe routes to school have) always been a concern of A2 STEAM parents ever since the school became A2 STEAM,” Grand said. “There is an influx of students, and keeping them safe is always their concern ... so, I understand the concerns of the neighbors, I understand the process is imperfect, but they shouldn’t be enemy of the good, which in this case is the safety of our kids.”

The resolution for the project was denied by the council with a 6-2 vote.

Then, the council discussed the budget and 2022 property tax millage, along with proposed amendments. The budget discussion focused on road repair, bettering leaf cleaning and police staffing.

The council voted unanimously in support of Jane Lumm, I-Ward 2, and her proposal to allocate an extra three million dollars for road repair. However, the council rejected Lumm’s proposal to restore leaf cleaning and Christmas tree pickup services with a 7-2 vote.

Additionally, the council discussed Lumm’s proposal of adding two police officers to the Ann Arbor Police Department, which passed with a 9-1 vote.

The council then unanimously approved the adoption of the amended the budget plan. It totaled $430 million for the entire fiscal year.

Taylor expressed his excitement about the new budget plan, because he said the plan prioritized the sustainability of the city and the needs of residents.

“The budget also does what Ann Arbor residents demand that it do, and that is to say that we improve our quality of life,” Taylor said. “We’re doing that through investments in parks, climate action, affordable housing, human services as well as an ongoing increased emphasis on non-vehicular transportation and pedestrian safety.”